Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Professional Development (or lack thereof)

Last week I wrote: “I think I get more out of 5 minutes on Twitter than an hour in a staff meeting.” It is sad but true, and the responses that I received from others in my PLN indicated that I am not alone. It is an unfortunate truth for many connected educators: as we are becoming more connected, more informed, and more effective, many institutions remain rigidly resistant to change, and a result old and inefficient practices are repeated over and over again.

The inspiration for this tweet came in the form of our monthly staff meeting, an hour+ long affair involving:

1. Discussion of issues which did not concern most of the staffers present2. Review of items and information which can easily be found in materials online and on Dropbox3. Check-ins, in which few spoke their mind and most unanimously declared that they were “fine” and things were going “well”

Needless to say, the meeting was pretty much a waste of time for most of the people who attended, and I left that day asking myself why, in a world of such easy access to new information, new practices, and new ways of sharing, do some people, groups, and institutions continue to merely “go through the motions,” even when doing so is so clearly ineffective?

I guess the easy answer is that change is hard, change is uncomfortable, and for those reasons it is largely avoided. However I have to look at my own life and experience and ask myself when doing the same old thing ever got me positive results (answer: it didn’t). There is a saying that the “definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Which leaves me wondering why a boring staff meeting would produce anything other than still-bored staffers.

Since I am a firm believer in the idea that if you focus on the problem, the problem enlarges, but if you focus on the solution, the solution enlarges, I am collecting ideas from my brain, my PLN, and the wealth of information out there in the universe, as to how we can make professional development effective, useful, and practical at the local level. That is to say, not only a collection of ideas which sound great out in the Twitterverse, but those which can be applied here and now, despite an institutional setting which limits the ease of change and applicability of new ideas. (Feel free to chime in in the comment section and let me know what I am missing, I’m sure there is a lot!)

1. Ask for input (Ask staffers and teachers what they want and need in terms of professional development, and take steps to offer it! Then continue to ask and follow-up to determine effectiveness).

2. Keep participants engaged (In the same way we focus on student engagement, administration should be concerned with offering professional development which keeps teachers and staff engaged. If the content is useful, they are more likely to be engaged).

3. Change things up a little (This could be anything from the location, format, or agenda of a staff meeting to including different forms of media and sharing).

4. OK, Change things up a lot (Out with the old, in with the new. Reevaluate what needs to be shared and why, and include new content and material instead of irrelevant and repetitive information).

5. Make use of resources (There is so much out there, we are truly doing ourselves and our staff a disservice conducting meetings with printouts that follow a traditional and repetitive format. Bring technology into the discussion to arm teachers and staff with tools which will truly advance them in their field).

This is just the beginning of what I’m sure is a massive list of things which should be done to maximize professional development opportunities. The tip of the iceberg, if you will. What are some ways in which you believe professional development should be advanced and applied in your schools?


  1. Hi Ava,

    I had a whole nice long comment that just got deleted when i tried to send it, and now i'm out of time.

    Anyway, love the post, love the blog.

    In regards to this post specifically, have you thought about starting your own reflective practice meetings with willing teachers? I find the meetings we have here in Busan to be immensely thought provoking and helpful.

    Anyway, Josette Leblanc has a good write up on how to get started here

    Keep it coming!

    John Pfordresher

    1. Thanks for the feedback John! You're right, a meeting with willing teachers would be immensely useful for those of us interested in a little getting more out of PD. I teach at a very new school so there aren't many of us, but I would love to start the practice now so that it could develop as our school grows :) Thanks again for the comment.

  2. I am so with you on this one. Only apart from attending monthly teachers meeting I also have to attend weekly all staff meetings! Teachers' meetings usually last 3 hours and the last hour is supposed to be dedicated to professional development. Unfortunately by the time my colleagues get through important updates (e.g. where to find the latest events spreadsheet in the jungle of the network drive) little time is left for professional development.

    As I am in charge of our teachers' professional development I conducted a needs analysis at the end of last academic year to set up regular PD sessions this year involving peer training and guest experts. Unbeknownst to me, this last hour has now been cut because "teachers can't stay for so long" and now I have to fight to get it back! Ah well...

    I like your list of suggestions and having completed #1 will now think how to incorporate the other four this year.


    1. Thanks Leo! Have to admit, your situation sounds so frustrating! We have weekly, hour-long staff meetings. And yes, it seems that after getting through the "business" aspects of these meetings no one has the time or energy to dedicate to real PD. Keep fighting for that hour, I think its worth it! If we can make PD more meaningful I think more instructors would make time for it.
      Thanks for the feedback :)